Guantanamo Review Tribunals Flawed Says Former Army Panelist

The Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantanamo Bay are deeply flawed, based on vague evidence prepared by poorly trained junior officers and conducted by panelists who are heavily pressured to conclude that prisoners are enemy combatants, according to an Army reserve officer who has served on one of the panels.

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Abraham, an Army intelligence officer since 1982 and now a practicing attorney in California, has sworn in an affidavit unsealed on Friday that when he and two other panelists found that a detainee should not be classified as an enemy combatant, they were ordered to review the case and take into account additional evidence presented by the government.

When they completed their case review and refused to reverse their decision, they were questioned in a series of meetings by their superiors who wanted to know “what went wrong”. Mr Abraham said after that, he was never asked to serve on another panel.

Mr Abraham also served as a liaison officer between the Pentagon, intelligence agencies and Guantanamo Bay. He stated that, in addition to screening the intelligence provided to personnel at Guantanamo, intelligence agencies refused to give assurances that they had not withheld any information that might indicate a detainee’s innocence. He also said that staff who prepared evidence against detainees were “relatively junior officers with little training or experience in matters relating to the collection, processing, analyzing and/or dissemination of intelligence material.”

On Friday, the Defense Department denied that intelligence was screened in the government’s favor and that the Guantanamo tribunals were unfair. Spokesman Chito Peppler said the process was “fair, rigorous and robust” and always conducted by a “neutral decision-making panel.”

Meanwhile, Bush administration officials at the highest level have been engaged in fresh talks to find a way to close down Guantanamo Bay, owing to increasing pressure from critics at home and abroad, as well as repeated legal rebukes from the US Supreme Court.

There is also legislation afoot in the US Congress which would require the closure of Guantanamo Bay. New proposals include transferring detainees to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, granting detainees access to lawyers regardless of whether or not they are put on trial and allowing them to challenge their detentions in federal court.

Previous attempts to close Guantanamo were blocked by Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

However, the consensus to close down Guantanamo is gaining new momentum with the strong support of new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush himself.

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